Alum Makes Bid for Ariz. Congress Seat

Andrei H. Cherny ’97 has had many titles: youngest presidential speechwriter in history, bestselling novelist, Arizona assistant attorney general, Arizona State Democratic Party chair, business consultant, and research fellow, to name a few. And now he wants to add another: Congressman.

Cherny is one of the leading Democratic candidates for Arizona’s Ninth Congressional District seat, a new spot created after the 2010 census showed that the state’s population had increased enough to merit another Congressman.

Cherny, who reflects on the struggles of his immigrant parents and his own experience working his way through Harvard with the aid of student loans, says that his campaign centers on shoring up America’s support systems for the middle class.

“We really decided to [run] because of the crisis that I think we’re heading for in our country, where we’re seeing the ladder of upward mobility breaking down in the country...and a political system that seems rigged against those basic building blocks of America,” Cherney said.

Cherny’s bid comes fifteen years after he stepped onto the national political scene almost by accident while still Harvard senior in 1996. As a columnist for The Crimson, he wrote a column after the 1996 presidential election which analyzed Bill Clinton’s surprising come-from-behind victory and teased out much of the symbolic campaigning that had brought the incumbent back from the political dead.

The White House communications director came across the column and circulated it among the upper circles of the president’s staff and onto the desk of Clinton himself. The president liked it so much that he borrowed several phrases for his 1997 inaugural address and offered Cherny a job. Just 10 days after graduating, the Crimson columnist became the youngest speechwriter in White House history.

“[Clinton] said to me at the time that it was the best distillation of the ideas he had been trying to run on and govern on that he had read anywhere, and the fact that it was a column by a college student was something that tickled him,” Cherny said.

Cherny rose through the ranks of Democratic politics before turning to writing and consulting. After the terrorist attacks of Septemer 11, 2001, he joined the Naval Reserves.

In 2007, Harvard Law School professor and now-U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren used Democracy, a progressive journal that Cherny founded, to launch her campaign to start the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cherny was instrumental in finding early funding for her campaign and advocating her cause.

“I think I’ve had a career that was somewhat unique, and I’ve been lucky to have a foot in the world of ideas,” Cherny said. “For me it’s really a belief in the power of ideas, and the impact that they can make.”

Local political experts said that since Cherny grew up in California and has lived in Arizona for less than a decade, he is seen as a political insider, prized for his Washington connections but unknown to most voters.

“I think at this point, most people view Andrei as the frontrunner in the race, largely because he’s a guy that has connections to raise a lot of money,” said Jim Small, editor of The Arizona Capitol Times.

Small said Cherny’s biggest challenge will be getting his name out to voters, who are more familiar with his Democratic opponents, Kyrsten Sinema and David Schapira, both Arizona political veterans.

Political dollars should come in handy for that purpose, Small said, and the former state party chair will have plenty. Cherny’s campaign raised over $400,000 in the first quarter of 2012, far more than any of his opponents and the fourth most of any Congressional candidate in the country, he said.

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu.

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